One of the common complaints of progressive rock is that it's all technique and no feeling or emotion. The ever versatile Steve Hackett took that stereotype head-on and flushed it down the toilet with his 1999 release, Darktown.
The album starts going full speed ahead out of the gate with the instrumental Omega Metallicus a heavily distorted musical onslaught, heavy on the bass, heavy on the distortion and totally in your face from the first note to the last before shifting to the darkly ambient title track.
Darktown is a largely Vincent Price-esque spoken word piece on the backdrop of heavily distorted Robert Fripp-esque guitar flourishes. Indeed if Price had still been alive when Hackett had recorded Darktown his voice would have been a perfect fit. That being said, Hackett does an admirable approximation of Vincent Price in his vocal delivery.
While the whole album is incredibly strong, something that I've come to notice from most of Hackett's solo material incidentally-- the consistency of quality. I don't believe Hackett has ever recorded a song that could be described as "filler." His material varies in quality from very good to excellent. There is no mediocrity.
The other standout track is The Golden Age of Steel, in it Hackett tells a tale of a young boy during WWII who seamlessly switches sides in the ongoing war in order to survive and profit. In the excellent liner notes Hackett describes the song as an example of "opportunism at its worst." Hackett's voice while not great is certainly passable and does work for the material he is performing. His vocal style is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. That being said Hackett's strength is certainly much more with his guitar than his voice. And it's for his guitar that this album is well worth listening to.
Incidentally this was one of the first solo albums of Hackett's I ever purchased. The cover art jumped out at me. There was something so dark but at the same time so beautiful about it and I wanted to hear the music that would inspire a photo of a tombstone as its cover artwork. I was not then, nor have I ever been disappointed with that decision.
Unfortunately, this album is now out of print in the United States. If you are able to find it at a decent price either as a new import or used I highly recommend it. If you think you know Hackett from his work in Genesis in the seventies prepare to be surprised. Prepare to be taken on an ambient and haunting musical journey. In the end, you'll be glad you did.